[DEBATE] : (Fwd) Africa's environment ever more despoiled
pbond at mail.ngo.za
Thu Jun 12 09:14:30 BST 2008
Death of a lake
June 12, 2008 Edition 1
STARK visual evidence showing the steady degradation of Africa's rich
natural resources has been presented to some of the continent's most
senior environmental custodians.
More than 300 satellite photographs, some going back almost 40 years,
clearly illustrate a steady deterioration of the natural environment
which is visible from the sky.
Contained in the new publication Africa: Atlas of Our Changing
Environment, the before-and-after images show a 50% decline in glaciers
and snow cover in the Ruwenzori mountains of Uganda between 1987 and
2003, as well as a significant loss of snow on Kilimanjaro, Africa's
The Atlas was presented to several African ministers of the environment
this week by national environment minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk and
the United Nations Environment Programme (Unep).
They are meeting in Johannesburg for the 12th African Ministerial
Conference on the Environment .
One of the most graphic examples of changing climatic conditions and
desertification is reflected by the gradual death of Lake Chad in
One of the earliest black-and-white satellite photographs, from 1963,
shows a vast lake stretching across the boundaries of four nations
(Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria). But over the next four decades, the
size of the lake shrinks dramatically to cover just the borderline
between Cameroon and Chad.
Other photographs show similarly stark contractions in the size of
forests and national parks, especially in the Democratic Republic of
Congo and Rwanda. The Virunga and Volcans national parks, the last main
refuge for Africa's mountain gorillas, are seen in the latest photos as
a tiny island of green encircled by subsistence farmers and loggers -
thousands of whom have settled in the parks as the soils and natural
resources are exhausted elsewhere.
Other images show an ever- expanding network of dirt roads creeping out
into formerly impenetrable forests now vulnerable to commercial bushmeat
hunters and timber cutters.
There are aerial photographs of Cairo, Tripoli and Lagos and many other
major cities which have swollen into huge human sponges as farmers
desert the land.
Achim Steiner, the director-general of Unep, said Africa was losing more
than four million hectares of forest every year, twice the world's
average deforestation rate.
Soil was also bleeding away in many places, with up to 50 metric tons of
soil per hectare being eroded in some areas.
The Atlas shows that soil erosion and chemical and physical damage have
degraded about 65% of the continent's farmlands.
It says that more than 300 million Africans already face water scarcity
and that climate change is one of the major driving forces for the loss
of water reserves.
From southern Africa, some of the images depict the rapid growth of
irrigated sugar cane fields and new pulp plantations, along with a
steady loss of native fynbos vegetation north of Cape Town.
Yet, there are also a few positive stories.
For example, the rate of forest-clearing around Mount Kenya has been
curbed significantly after recent policy changes and stricter law
Some park areas in Tunisia are also recovering fast since the government
has acted to halt overgrazing and also reintroduced the scimitar-horned
oryx, which is on the verge of extinction.
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